Christmas is over for some. But thankfully, not for me. Not here in Iceland. We have a song in Iceland that says: I wish it were Christmas every day. And so it will be, all the way until January 6. 2013. That’s next year, so for the rest of the current year we will have the Holy season. That’s great!
To adjust for the long Christmas we start partying in early December, sometimes even in November. When I was a young boy we knew Christmas was approaching when a shop downtown put its mechanical dolls in the window, a group of four women drinking coffee. It was fabulous standing outside the window watching them. Someone found them a few years back and put them in a window again, but somehow it was not as impressive as in the old days. I have no idea where they might be now.
Now the season starts with the so-called Christmas buffets. Maybe they exist in every country now. I remember going to Sweden and Denmark about 20 years ago in December. That was when I first heard of them. I was invited out to a Christmas buffet by an insurance company I was visiting. The company specialized in insurance for people who did not drink alcohol. I am sure the feast was fine, but the only thing I remember is that everyone drank low alcohol beer. I was the only one who confessed to drinking and I had a coke.
This year I survived (barely) about five pre-Christmas dinners. I went to: Kolabrautin on December 4, Hótel Holt on the 11th, Nauthóll on the 14th, Hótel Natura on the 19th, Hótel Borg on the 19th (that‘s, right, two on the same day) and Thrír Frakkar on the 20th (now I see it is actually six!). They were all fine, but just too many.
On the 23 Vigdís arranges a small family get-together. She comes from the West Fjords and supposedly the people from there ate skate on the December 23. In case you don’t know, skate is a terribe smelling flatfish. I don’t really know whether it smells so bad when it comes out of the sea, but when it is cooked the smell reminds you of a public lavatory. Icelanders in general seem to love it, but I don’t. I’m normal and they are not (I do remember that Dev Basu, one of my professors in Florida, told us that when you are the only normal person left, you have reason to worry, but I really don’t. Who would want to eat in a lavatory?).
Only the very closest family members are invited. This time barely 107 made it. I didn’t eat the foul fish, but still my stomach hurt after the party. Not from hunger though, I can assure you.
On the 24th I like to deliver small parcels to family and friends. I used to think this was something I did to entertain my children, but I have been going on these trips alone for years. It gives me a chance to talk to the people who came to my party the day before. I also get the chance to spread some of the smell of the skate. It sticks to your clothes forever.
Finally at six o’clock Christmas arrives. That means Vigdís and I go to church. The church was only half-full which I thought was kind of sad. A few years back it was packed on Christmas Eve. We sang all the right songs, the priest read the nativity tale and 45 minutes later we were walking back home.
The ground was dark. We did not have one flake of snow in Reykjavík this December. That’s fine with me, except I would like a white Christmas. It would be nice to have a white Christmas without the snow, but that would be rather hard to arrange.
I got books for Christmas. Many books. I started to read one, the biography of Nonni, pater Jón Sveinsson, an Icelandic Jesuit priest, who was a famous author of children’s books. Not many Icelanders are Catholic and practically none are Jesuits, but Nonni was always my favorite. He wrote books about growing up as a boy in Iceland, how free and happy the children were.
It turns out that he came from a broken family. His father went bankrupt, some of the children had to be given to strangers, his mother had a child with a priest a few months after getting married to Nonni’s father.
Why is the truth always far more grim than fiction?
This morning I woke up and we had a new reality. The ground was covered with snow. My white Christmas finally arrived. And I have 11 days left of it.